I’ve never met a more interesting person than Bob Delaney.
When I was hired in 2012 as the new editor of The Michigan Catholic, Bob was the first person to whom I was introduced. I was supposed to be his supervisor, but it was clear from day one that he’d be teaching me.
Bob, an Episcopalian, knew the Catholic Church inside and out. And he respected it. Dare I say he even loved it.
At the tail end of a long, 22-year career at The Michigan Catholic, Bob was an institution at this newspaper. He made an instant impact on everyone he met, and his knowledge, kind demeanor and professionalism are well known around the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Bob’s death on April 11 was a shock to his many friends and former colleagues. I suspect it comes as sad news for many, many readers as well, who got to know not just a professional writer, but a close friend and a listening ear.
Bob had seen and covered everything related to the Church: her saints, her faith, and sometimes even her warts. He’d traveled the world — literally — in search of compelling stories. He’d interviewed likely future saints. He had the cardinal on speed dial (probably).
It was his ability to care about everything and everyone he met — and his ability to bring others into the conversation — that made Bob Delaney an indispensable part of The Michigan Catholic over those 22 years. Those on whom he reported genuinely felt like Bob wanted to tell their stories, because he did. There was no parish picnic too small, no bake sale too routine; every story was worth telling.
There are people who are engaging personalities, and there are people who can hold your attention for hours. And then there was Bob. The stories he could tell — in print or over a pint — were nothing short of fascinating. Even if you previously had no interest in, say, the history of Gilded Age French-style architecture in Detroit in the late 19th century, Bob made it captivating.
Bob was incredibly smart — apart from being a Michigan Catholic reporter, he was also an accomplished theater critic, a much-loved professor of economics and an amateur historian on all things Detroit — but he was also big-hearted and full of faith.
A self-described “old bachelor,” Bob spent much of his free time caring for his mother and volunteering his time to help those in need. His priorities were God, family and friends, in that order, and his reverence for the Lord was evident in everything he did.
He was also humble. While Bob could carry a conversation with the best of them, he never wanted himself to be the center of attention. When I interviewed him for a story on his retirement in 2013, it took about a half-hour, not because Bob was long-winded, but because — for the first and perhaps only time — he didn’t have much to say.
Ask Bob Delaney about the city of Detroit, the Catholic faith, or any of the hundreds of people he’d interviewed, and he’d talk your ear off. Ask Bob Delaney about Bob Delaney, and he’d ask about you instead. I can think of no better role model for The Michigan Catholic than Bob, whose love and respect for the Lord, his city and his fellow human beings made for a fine example I hope we’ll always emulate. For those who knew him, Bob Delaney was the consummate journalist: always fair, always careful and — as those who worked with him can fondly attest — always a little late.
Bob had a knack for telling a great story, but he seemed to always require an extra five minutes to do it. As an editor, that drove me nuts sometimes. But as a reader, I appreciated it. Bob’s death came, fittingly, on a press day, which we here at The Michigan Catholic believe was Bob’s way of asking for a little more time one last time. After thousands of thoughtful stories, written and spoken, it’s the least we could do to oblige. God is surely smiling on a good and faithful servant.
Mike Stechschulte is managing editor of The Michigan Catholic newspaper.